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MerleFest 2017 Announces Winners of Chris Austin Songwriting Contest

The Austin Stage was packed for MerleFest 2017’s 25th Annual Chris Austin Songwriting Contest. Kari Estrin, co-founder of the contest, appeared as a special guest at the contest. Writers of the following 12 songs were selected from 846 entries and competed on the Austin Stage at MerleFest on Friday, April 28. MerleFest, presented by Window World, congratulates the 2017 winners:
1st Place – Linda Jean Stokley (Versailles, Ky.) – “Cigarette Trees”
2nd Place – Mike Bentley (Virgie, Ky.) – “Waiting at the Harbor”
3rd Place – Matthew Hurd (Rogersville, Tenn.) – “Life Underground”
1st Place – Paul Kelly (Santa Fe, N.M.), Buddy Guido (Mohawk, N.Y.), Willie Schoellkopf (Buffalo, N.Y.) – “Trap Door (In the Ceiling)”
2nd Place – Ian Meadows (Chester, Conn.) – “Faithless Preacher”
3rd Place – Kevin Hale (Brentwood, Tenn.) – “I’m Finally Going Home”
1st Place – Mary Bragg (Nashville, Tenn.), Liz Poston (Nashville, Tenn.) – “Lucky Strike”
2nd Place – Carly Burruss (Cumming, Ga.) – “Communion Wine”
3rd Place – Erin James (Nashville, Tenn.) – “Wilted Flower”
1st Place – Catherine Backus (Bedford, Va.) – “Tomatoes”
2nd Place – Alexa Rose (Boone, N.C.) – “Borrow your Heart”
3rd Place – Shay Martin Lovette (Boone, N.C.), Locke Griffith (Carrboro, N.C.) – “Bermuda Run”
MerleFest 2017 congratulates the winners of the 25th Annual Chris Austin Songwriting Contest. Here the finalists are pictured with Jim Lauderdale and the judges of the contest. Photo by Pixels on Paper.

The Chris Austin Songwriting Contest is a unique opportunity for aspiring writers to have their original songs heard and judged by a panel of Nashville music industry professionals, under the direction of the volunteer contest chairperson, Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale. The on-site judges for the final round were lifelong songwriter Mark Brinkman; Berklee College of Music songwriting scholarship recipient Maya de Vitry, who is a member of The Stray Birds; and Joseph Terrell of Mipso and the 2014 winner of the CASC general category. All finalists took part in a songwriting mentoring session with Jim Lauderdale and the on-site judges. The first place winners in each category received $600 cash from MerleFest and performed on the Cabin Stage on Friday night to rave reviews.
“The level of songwriting just gets better and better. It’s almost impossible to judge,” said Brinkman. “Obviously, we will see several of these songwriters in the future.”
The first round of the CASC competition takes place in Nashville, Tenn., and is narrowed down to 12 finalists representing four categories: bluegrass, country, general and gospel/inspirational.
Judging is based on a song’s originality, lyrics, melody and overall commercial potential. The contest is open to those whose primary source of income (50 percent or more) is not derived from songwriting or publishing. The first-round judges were critically acclaimed bluegrass instrumentalist Chris Jones; North Carolina musician Jim Avett, who is father to Seth and Scott Avett of The Avett Brothers; natural-born storyteller Ken Tizzard; Country Hall of Fame honoree Ed Snodderly; and Whitney Holmes with Ernest Tubb Record Shop Inc.
Net proceeds from the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest help support the Wilkes Community College Chris Austin Memorial Scholarship. Since its inception the scholarship has been awarded to 84 deserving students. Previous winners of the Chris Austin Songwriting Contest include Gillian Welch, Tift Merritt, Michael Reno Harrell, Adrienne Young, Martha Scanlan, David Via and Johnny Williams.
For more details about the contest, visit www.merlefest.org/ChrisAustinSongwritingContest
MerleFest, considered one of the premier music festivals in the country, is an annual homecoming of musicians and music fans held on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. MerleFest was founded in 1988 in memory of the son of the late American music legend Doc Watson, renowned guitarist Eddy Merle Watson. MerleFest is a celebration of “traditional plus” music, a unique mix of music based on the traditional, roots-oriented sounds of the Appalachian region, including bluegrass and old-time music, and expanded to include Americana, country, blues, rock and many other styles. The festival hosts a diverse mix of artists on its 13 stages during the course of the four-day event. The annual event has become the primary fundraiser for the WCC Endowment Corporation, funding scholarships, capital projects and other educational needs.